In May the New York Times covered the release of Jockey’s new Fit Kit, which in turned sparked a number of articles remarkable for the uniformity of their frenzied hand-wringing and cries of “Bras, am I right? Who can figure these things out? Arrghh they’re sooooo haaaard,” followed immediately by a number of articles that countered with the suggestion that recent developments in bra fitting practices, especially those relating to larger cup/smaller back sizes, were a sham, a crock, and snake oil, and that bras were supposed to be uncomfortable instruments of torture anyway so all these “bra fitters” were zealous, self-righteous quacks.
I was skeptical of Jockey’s fitting claims, but my surprise at the passion and range of responses inspired me to see what the commotion was all about. I know it seems odd coming from someone who’s written about bras for over a year now, but at the end of the day, bra fitting isn’t really a great mystery. Sure, there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and sure, you’ll meet some people who may give you advice that isn’t particularly helpful to you, but over time you come to discover what YOU like and what YOU deserve in a good bra, and really from there on out you just gotta try the damn things on. In my opinion, the tricky thing about bras is that for many of us, no one explains how to find a good fit for ourselves. We (and by “we” I of course mean “Sweets, from age 10 to 23″) decide that, at some point, we’ll find a size and stick with it forever and ever, and any bra with that size on the tag will fit us.
Except the thing is, bras aren’t like socks or t-shirts; there are a few more moving parts. Getting the number and the letter right one time doesn’t necessarily mean that’s your number and letter forever. However, the good news is that once you’ve figured HOW you want to feel and look in a bra, you’re kind of in charge of your destiny. You can pick the colors and the shapes and the styles and the sizes that YOU want. With new brands and new styles appearing with greater regularity in an ever-more-competitive market, there’s never been a better time to love lingerie, and knowing how you like your bra to fit on your body allows you to pick and choose from that huge variety to find what you love best. The huge number of options is great, because it better represents the diversity of human bodies, but it can feel a little daunting to someone just setting out on her bra journey.
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Jockey’s press materials seem to revolve around eliminating some of that picking and choosing, narrowing the playing field. According to their customer research, the majority (81%) of women want bras in basic colors, only 9% care about matching sets, and 62% aren’t interested in style. With that in mind, it almost feels unfair for me to evaluate their fitting process: I am clearly not their target customer. I don’t care for plain, molded cup bras, I DO care about matching sets, and I want anything other than a basic color: I want jewel tones and lace and polka dots and bows and ruffles and prints and satins and velvets and . . . you see where I’m going.
I was also dubious about how truly revolutionary any new fitting process could possibly be, considering how different the American bra landscape looks now than it did ten years ago. How much of an improvement was really called for? I’ve seen well-fitting bras radically change lives, both mine and other women’s. Would Jockey’s innovation manage to go above and beyond?
I requested a review sample from Jockey on a Friday and received it the following Monday. The kit retails for $19.95, and includes a $20 voucher, presumably to offset the cost of the kit when you order your new bra. I received a frankly massive box that contained the press literature, the instruction sheet, the 10 different molded cups, a color-coded measuring tape, a sample bra in size 2/32, a lingerie bag, and a branded thumb drive (slightly odd). The idea is that you hold the ten cup things up to your body, pick the one that fits you best, and then measure your underbust. Rather than wearing a 32B or a 36F, you wear a 1/32 or a 7/36 (note: these size conversions aren’t necessarily accurate, just my guesses).
Right off the bat, there’s something that feels clinical and sterile about the Jockey Bra fitting process. I know women who are reluctant to order bras online, period. If I told them they first had to pay $20 for a fit kit of plastic cups and a measuring tape before they’d even get a chance to see one of the bras, they’d laugh in my face.
Moreover, some of the fun of lingerie is presentation; there’s nothing wrong with a basic shopping bag, but I personally get a little thrill when I can travel home with a pretty shopping bag over my arm, like the one above from Miss Mandalay. Tutti Rouge gets it: their blogger samples, in sassy black boxes filled with pink tissue and pretty, frilly undies, tapped into that feeling of fun and specialness. Getting a massive box, with “That perfect fit you’ve dreamed about is finally here” emblazoned on it (along with a pitcher of water and a measuring tape), cleared past the security in my office building didn’t feel particularly fun or special.
I got home, unpacked the materials, and laid out the plastic cups, my heart sinking. Ten cups? Just ten? Ten cups, that are supposed to fit women of both differing shapes AND sizes? Jockey’s pitch is that their fitting system addresses the fact that breasts have volume. Yet already I was at a loss– I couldn’t really tell if this hard plastic cup was the right shape for me, or if it was just shoving my breast tissue into a mold. What if one cup’s dimensions or projection looks better than another’s, but the size doesn’t seem to encapsulate all of my breast tissue? Also, bras take on different shapes once they’re fitted to the body. The band stretches, the wires bend and adjust, the straps smooth the cups and help stabilize the bra. A rigid plastic cup doesn’t move like a bra cup, and it certainly doesn’t move the way a well-fitted bra does.
The instructions aren’t a tremendous amount of help. The illustrations showing what is “too small” or “too large” were unclear to me, someone obsessively familiar with bra fitting, and I wonder if they’d be completely opaque to someone used to wearing the wrong size and unsure of how to fix it.
I decided it wouldn’t really be fair to write about the kit without at least trying the product, so I requested a review sample from my Jockey contact on June 10. I really did want to see what it would feel like and fit like. Ali Cudby has some really positive thoughts recognizing Jockey’s innovation; Elisabeth Dale was able to try the “right” size, but her bra felt all wrong for her shape. Since a month has now elapsed and no bra is forthcoming (I’ve since heard that Jockey had some inventory supply issues), I’m kind of . . . over it. So here are my thoughts:
- The bra included in the press kit is the “Tailored Contour” in black in a size 2/32, meaning that the cup matches the #2 cup, stuck on a size 32 band. It features narrower straps than some of the other styles, adorned with twisting silver metal hardware joining the strap to the cup. Otherwise, that’s it. No embellishments, no seams, no personality. Three columns of two rows of hooks and eyes, fully encased flexible underwires, and smooth, soft-feeling molded cups. It’s . . . fine. I couldn’t begin to tell you what the “real” size is– maybe somewhere between a 32C-DD? I’m so used to thinking of describing breast volume using the classic alphanumeric system that it’s really disorienting to try to evaluate the sizing of the new bras. But with that in mind:
- There’s so much more to feeling good in a bra than finding the right size. What about seams? Seams are the greatest! What shape, what lift, what amazing support they can provide! What about different shapes of molded cups? A molded cup that fits like a dream on one woman will fit totally differently on a dozen other women, even if they all wear the same size and have the same cup volume. Their ages, their breast shape, their bone structures, their muscularity, and their personal comfort levels will all affect how they feel about a particular bra. What about breathable fabrics? What about different panels on the cups, or different strap widths, gore heights, and band depths? What about the need to accomodate women whose breasts are closer together or farther apart on their bodies? The new Jockey Bras will most likely solve some women’s fit issues, but to suggest that these five styles are the reinvention of the bra as we know it and will solve EVERY woman’s fit issues is absurd.
- I regularly see products in the American lingerie market that are designed to combat some of the same bra issues the Jockey Fit Kit claims to fight: back fat, slipping or digging straps, spilling breast tissue, and painful underwires. I certainly don’t fault women or companies for wanting to avoid or correct these issues of comfort and flattery, but I don’t think buying “special” bras will necessarily help, when most of these issues can be alleviated or improved by adjusting the size or seeking out a different fit or shape.
- I also don’t think women who experience these fit issues should feel relegated to band-aid colored “problem solver” bras. Women’s breasts aren’t “problems” that need “solutions”. The Jockey Fit Kit sets itself up to be the ultimate band-aid, but COME ON. Is “problem solver” really all our underwear should be?
- Knowing your Jockey size will only allow you to know how these five Jockey bras will fit you. For that matter, knowing your bra size in any brand, any style, and even any color will only give you an idea of how that one particular brand’s style’s color will fit you. As Elisabeth says, there is much more that goes into the “perfect fit you’ve dreamed about” than the size on the tag, no matter how that size is expressed. Different cuts, different shapes, different materials, and even different dye lots will fit differently.
- At the end of the day, this feels like homework. Worse than that, it feels like remedial, dumbed-down homework. It seems to assume that women are too helpless and easily overwhelmed to grasp bra fitting. Sure, bras can be tricky. It can take some trial and error to find your favorite fit. But the thing is, shoes can be just as tricky and trial-and-error as bras. Jeans? My gracious, there are literally THOUSANDS of different shapes, cuts, lengths, styles, and sizes of jeans. I have been as bitterly disappointed when my favorite cut of jeans is discontinued as I am when my favorite bras are. If women can try on dozens of pairs of shoes to make sure they find a pair that will go with their outfits, last a long time, suit their personal style, and feel comfortable throughout a day of wear, they can do the same with their bras.
There is more to fit than the size on the tag. There’s more to fit than knowing cup volume. And there’s much, much more to lingerie than our bra sizes.
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Finally, now I have these ten random numbered plastic wobbly cup things hanging around my apartment. While I am by no means as diligently careful about my environmental impact as I could be, the thought of all these plastic cups winging their way over the country, only to sit around gathering dust, most likely for eternity, once customers have chosen their Jockey size, makes me cringe. I’d much rather just try on a bunch of bras and return the ones that don’t fit, so that they can be resold.